Gentrification is a term used to describe the process of rebuilding and renewal that tends to occur when affluent or middle-class people move into deteriorating areas, often displacing poorer residents. Coined in 1964 by sociologist Ruth Glass, the term’s origins are found in the French word “genterise,” which refers to “those of gentle birth.” In England, the word was used to refer to the class of people known as “gentlemen.” The word has been in greater use as of late, due to the economic ups and downs we’ve experienced in recent history. Many believe that these swings have caused areas to become gentrified; however, the issue at hand is whether or not gentrification is owed to the recent downturn in the American economy.
Because there is so little empirical data surrounding the topic, it is difficult to nail down a real nationwide trend. Some areas, like the De La Guerra Plaza in Santa Barbara, CA, have seen gentrification pick up. According to Dr. Mark Weiser, a Los Angeles Sleep Apnea Dentist who has an office 8 blocks away from the De La Guerra Plaza, the change is a good one.
“They kind of let it go,” he said. “They’re sprucing it back up. It’s a pretty area; so I’m happy they’re doing it. It got to be the kind of place where a lot of the homeless people were hanging out.”
Like many business owners, Weiser sees the gentrification of the area as a benefit to the community; but while De La Guerra Plaza in Santa Barbara appears to be enjoying a consistent renewal, other areas are seeing gentrification slow and even pause. According to Los Angeles Times Architecture Critic Christopher Hawthorne, the downtown L.A area has paused at an opportune moment.
Downtown L.A. was on the fast track to gentrification and saw a tripling of the population from 2000-2008; but when the economy turned down in 2008, the process slowed and then paused. It is an interesting case study, because it has not completed the process – which many see as a negative thing – but rather has paused in what others see as a perfect medium. Rent and costs are still affordable enough for lower-earning people to maintain their lives in the area; but there is also a new feel that has brought in more businesses and higher earners.
Denver, Colorado has also seen its fair share of gentrification in the past decade. Local developer, Kyle Zeppelin of Zeppelin Development has been involved in many development projects throughout Denver. According to him, his company’s niche is in reusing Denver’s old urban and industrial core by utilizing buildings and land.
Forbes recently gathered a panel of experts on the subject to gain insight into the issue, and the results were interesting. The experts looked at the issue from the housing crash perspective and seem to believe that gentrification will not slow down on the national scale. They do, however, see specific locations affected in different ways.
Pat Lashinsky of Zipreality.com does not see gentrification slowing down because of other factors that are playing into it. According to him, his company has seen buyers place more importance on closer-to-work locations and reduced commute times, which has only encouraged demand for gentrified areas.
Michael Feder of Radar Logic agrees that gentrification isn’t entirely dependent on the economy. According to him, demographic growth toward the center city is the true driving force behind gentrification, because lower cost neighborhoods offer a good opportunity for development to satisfy the resulting demand for housing.
The current economy is affecting gentrification as a whole, but in different ways. One geographic location sees gentrification grow, while another sees it come to a halt. If you’re investing, moving, or interested in what is going on in your neighborhood, be sure to do your homework.